Astounding Antarctica
Saevus|December 2020 - February 2021
A photographer’s journey through the Antarctic is an expedition packed with awe-inspiring vistas, magnificent wildlife, perilous travel and unforgettable memories.
AMARTYA MUKHERJEE

“CITY PHOTOGRAPHER OFF TO SHOOT POLAR BEARS”, said a headline in the Times of India (2014), just before my Arctic expedition. And ever since that trip, I had known in my heart of hearts that it was but a matter of time before I went and photographed the icescapes and penguins in the Antarctic. The stars aligned in November 2019. I was set to go to perhaps the last, truly pristine landscape left on Planet Earth -- the Seventh Continent -- via Argentina.

On 1st November, we departed from the port of Ushuaia, a frontier town nestled where the Andes finally drop into the sea, on board the MV Ushuaia, our expedition vessel, and travelled through the Beagle Channel.

I soon met up with my primary contact, Ole Jørgen Liodden, one of the top polar photographers with whom one could gainfully explore the frozen ends of the planet, along with other members of the expedition team, all photographers and veterans of polar excursions.

The ship crossed the Drake Passage, the rough seas famously associated with the nearly 1,000 km of water between South America and the Antarctic, on 2nd and 3rd November, and I relished spending several hours on the very windy deck with my cameras and lenses, capturing the fascinating but brutal life of pelagic birds. Wandering and Blackbrowed Albatross followed the ship, as well as Cape Petrels, Giant Petrels, Storm Petrels and later on Southern Fulmars and Antarctic Petrel.

Welcoming us into the Antarctic region were our first tabular icebergs, some of which dwarfed most of what I had seen earlier in the Arctic. Temperatures had plummeted. But so entrancing was the beauty of nature that it was almost impossible to stop photographing despite blasts of the icy polar winds.

I recall a great sighting of 25-30 Orcas or Killer Whales, and then our first proper viewing of a group of penguins on an iceberg in the last rays of the setting sun. The expert naturalists on our ship later confirmed that all three species of brush-tailed penguins had been on that iceberg - Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap. Of these, Adelie penguins are found only in Antarctica whereas Gentoos and Chinstraps are also found in sub-Antarctic regions such as, Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

This was just the start of my experience with the wonders of Antarctica, as each day unveiled splendours that I would have found difficult to believe had I not seen them with my own eyes. Truly, Antarctica is a place like no other and nothing is more symbolic of this vast white wilderness of elemental forces than its most famous features -- the penguins and the icebergs.

On 5th November we spent time at Mikkelsen Harbour, and photographed Gentoo penguins with stunning backgrounds, including in ‘white-out’ conditions. As a nature lover it was fascinating to be able to observe the different behaviours of the Gentoo penguins. I saw, for the first time, an amazing scene of gentoos sometimes swimming along by leaping in and out of the water, looking like dolphins or porpoises from a distance! Although it is more energy efficient for penguins to swim under water than at the water's surface, they must come to the surface to breathe. When at the surface, some species of penguin, including gentoos, they move like dolphins or porpoises. Some scientists believe it is to help them move at high speeds, while others postulate that this helps to confuse their predators.

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